Vulnerabilities inadvertently built into the U.S. power grid, which is one of the most complex systems ever constructed, have been identified by a research team lead by Reka Albert, assistant professor of physics at Penn State. The teams topological analysis of the grid structure reveals that, although the system has been designed to withstand the random loss of generators or substations, its integrity may depend on protecting a few key elements.
"Our analysis indicates that major disruption can result from loss of as few as two percent of the grids substations," says Albert, whose research team includes Istvan Albert, research associate in the Bioinformatics Consulting Center at Penn State, and Gary L Nakarado at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. One implication of the research is that identification of strategic points in the grid system can enhance defense against interruptions, whether by equipment failure, natural disasters, or human activity. Major blackouts caused by failures in the grid, such as the one that affected the northeastern part of the country during the summer of 2003, incur tremendous economic, public-health, and security risks.
The study, titled "Structural Vulnerability of the North American Power Grid," was published in a recent issue of the journal Physical Review E. The researchers constructed a model of the entire transmission grid with over 14,000 "nodes," including generators, transmission substations, and distribution substations, and over 19,000 "edges," corresponding to the high-voltage transmission lines that carry power between the nodes. They measured the importance of each substation node based on its "load," or the number of shortest paths between other nodes that pass through it. "While 40 percent of the nodes had a load below one thousand, the analysis identified 1 percent of the nodes--approximately 140--that have a load higher than one million," Albert says.
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
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